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LAKingsinsider's Preview LAK at ATL

by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings
A goal and an assist in your debut earns you more playing time. Randy Jones will play tonight as Sean O'Donnell will be a healthy scratch.

ATLANTA - There’s a lot of motivation in the Kings’ locker room this season.

All players are motivated to get the Kings into the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Young players, in particular, are motivated to show that they should stick in the NHL. And a small subset of players are motivated to avoid taking a vacation in February.

The NHL will take a two-week break in February for the Olympics, and no fewer than eight Kings are hoping to be in Vancouver rather than taking a rest.

The United States’ Dustin Brown, Jack Johnson, Jonathan Quick and Rob Scuderi, Canada’s Drew Doughty and Ryan Smyth, Russia’s Alexander Frolov and Slovakia’s Michal Handzus are all strong candidates to make their respective national teams.

The most interesting player to watch might be Doughty, the 19-year-old second-year defenseman who will be trying to crack one of the world’s most talented rosters.

Canada’s roster won’t be announced until Dec. 31, but a story on NHL.com today predicted that Doughty would make the Olympic team, along with Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Dan Boyle, Shea Weber, Duncan Keith and Jay Bouwmeester.

That’s rarified air, and Doughty still has almost seven weeks to show he belongs. Kings coach Terry Murray was asked today whether he thought the looming Olympic picks served as more motivation than distraction for his players.

"I think expectations are a great thing to have," Murray said. "The players that we're talking about playing in the Olympics this year is a real driving force sometimes.

One player singled out by Murray was Smyth, who earned the moniker "Captain Canada" by captaining national teams at the World Championships earlier this decade. Smyth won Olympic gold with Canada in 2002 and also played in 2006.

"He knows how to do what's required at that level, in those stressful situations, and he's got a lot of pride in his game," Murray said. "He wants to get back there and show that he still has it. I think it's a good dynamic in our locker room. The guys have really started to come together in the last year, and Ryan Smyth has fit in absolutely perfectly for us."

IVANANS BACK IN

Raitis Ivanans is scheduled to play tonight against the Thrashers, and he will take the place of fourth-line winger Teddy Purcell. Defenseman Randy Jones stays in the lineup in place of Sean O’Donnell, and as expected, Jonathan Quick will get the start in goal.

It’s been a steep fall for Purcell, who started the season as the Kings’ second-line left wing, scored two goals in his first three games and was playing upward of 17 minutes per game. Since then, though, Purcell has zero goals and three assists in 16 games.

Purcell was recently dropped to the fourth line, with the emergence of rookie Scott Parse, but Murray said the move was more about Ivanans than Purcell.

"It’s not a dissatisfaction (with Purcell)," Murray said. "He still has that skill level that is very intriguing for us. He can move up to the higher lines if necessary. But right now, with our power play, he’s not on it.

"Williams has moved there, and Parse still continues to show us good things, so I’m looking at, in this particular game here, I’m looking at Atlanta’s game from last night and they’ve got a fourth line that’s pretty heavy and gritty. The other team dictates the move for me."

WORKING THE CIRCLE
At one point, early this season, the Kings were last in the NHL in faceoff percentage. They have climbed a bit, to No. 25 – they have won 47.9 percent of faceoffs this season – but it’s still occasionally a problem area.

The Kings won only 18 of 47 faceoffs against Nashville last Saturday, then won 32 of 62 against Chicago and lost 28 of 49 against Carolina on Wednesday.

Centers getting support from wingers has been an issue at times this season, on draws that aren’t cleanly won, but Murray pointed to a different problem of late: Kings’ centers inability to stay in the faceoff circle.

"We’re getting thrown out too much," Murray said. "Center icemen, especially in our D zone, they’re there for a reason. You know that you’re the visiting team and you’ve got to put your stick down first and you’ve got to wait for the other center iceman to react and put his stick down, and then the puck is dropped.

"I think we’re trying to be too aggressive in those situations, and we’re getting thrown out far too often."

FREAKY BIRTHDAY
On Friday the 13th, no Kings players would admit to having any significant pregame superstitions -- perhaps that's a superstition in itself -- but Matt Greene does have one tie to the day. He was born on May 13, 1983, a Friday.
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